A talented and athletic West Allis Central football team is setting its sights high for the 2016 season.
"I think we are all optimistic," head coach Keith Ringelberg said. "We are not deep, but the pieces we have are good ones. We are going to try to get into the (WIAA) playoffs this season. Anything less would be a disappointment."
Part of the reason for the optimism is the return of senior quarterback Griffin Johnson (6 foot-4 inches, 180 pounds), who missed four games last season with a knee injury.
"(The injury) certainly took away from some of the things we wanted to do," Ringelberg said.
Johnson is now back at 100 percent and ready to lead what could be an explosive offense.
"He looks great," the coach said. "He is playing with more confidence and is stronger. He has a better feel for the offense. He is doing his reads quickly and throwing at the right time."
The Bulldogs also have the services of senior Xavier Mullins (5-7, 165), who Ringelberg said will do a little bit of everything this season.
"We need to get the ball in his hands," Ringelberg said. "He is a real playmaker. Xavier could push for player of the year in the Greater Metro this season. He is that polished and instinctive."
Central's main running backs are sophomores Glenn Martin (5-10, 175) and Jose Cruz (6-1, 165), with junior Josiah Benjamin (5-6, 205) also seeing some time in the backfield.
Mullins will play at wide receiver, along with senior Kelshawn Johnson (6-0, 160), a speed merchant who competed in the hurdles at last season's WIAA state track and field meet, and senior Breshawn Renfro (5-9, 165).
Johnson and company will operate behind a veteran offensive line keyed by senior left tackle Nick Sobon (5-11, 260), a three-year starter, and senior left guard James Martin (5-11, 250), a two-year starter.
Senior Michael Wilcox (5-11, 180), another three-year starter, will lead the linebacking corps, along with Benjamin.
Senior Brandon Ezell (6-0, 250) and junior Salim DeLoach (6-1, 250) will key the defensive line and senior David Martinez (5-6, 160), junior Colton Rosas (5-7, 155) and junior Remontae Blakley (5-11, 150) will lead the way in the defensive backfield.
"This group is tighter-knit than last season's," Ringelberg said. "They play for each other, which wasn't always the case last year. It also helps to have Johnson back at quarterback. To have success this year, the guys need to learn how to play at a high level on every play."
Ringelberg said the preseason has gone well.
"We saw some tough competition in our scrimmage up at Sun Prairie," he said. "There are things that worked well and things we need to work on, but we walked away feeling good."
Ringelberg said the GMC should be strong once again this season.
"You have Brookfield East, Marquette and Brookfield Central," he said, "and Hamilton should be strong."
Player to watch: Xavier Mullins, a senior playmaker who is dangerous from the running back and receiver spots and as a kick returner. He will also play outside linebacker and punt.
Keep an eye on: Senior quarterback Griffin Johnson, who missed part of last season with an injury. He is a talented passer and he could be the leader of a formidable offense.
We say: the Bulldogs have some talented players on both sides of the ball. If they consistently play together, they could reach coach Keith Ringelberg's goal of a playoff berth.
First team: None.
Second team: None
Honorable mention: Griffin Johnson (QB), Xavier Mullins (AP)
First-team losses: None
Coach: Keith Ringelberg
Outcome: Did not make playoffs
Last year (home in bold)
Whitnall L 27-20
Milwaukee Washington W 44-0
Brookfield East L 27-0
Brookfield Central L 38-14
West Allis Hale L 18-7
Menomonee Falls L 37-13
Marquette University L 48-0
Sussex Hamilton L 35-7
Wauwatosa East W 16-9
Port Washington L 41-21
Aug. 19 Whitnall
Aug. 26 HOPE Christian
Sept. 2 Brookfield East
Sept. 9 Brookfield Central
Sept. 16 West Allis Hale
Sept. 23 Menomonee Falls
Sept. 30 Marquette University
Oct. 7 Sussex Hamilton
Oct. 14 Wauwatosa East